Start Making Sense: The Commercialization of Cancer


There is a new cancer center commercial that, quite frankly, freaks me out.

There is a new cancer center commercial that, quite frankly, freaks me out. At first, I thought it was just me being upset that my zone-out time watching golf (I know, it’s hard to get more couch potato than that) was interrupted several times by cancer. I realized that it was not just the “pardon the interruption” component when my wife overheard the commercial and had the immediate response, “Turn that off. That’s so wrong. You can’t talk to cancer like it’s a person!”

I feel the need to preface this rant with acknowledging that, of course, I feel for the people in this commercial. They are, reportedly, real survivors and real physicians and I send my blessings and peace to all of them. The script they were given, however, leaves me feeling like someone has jumped on the political bandwagon and created the first attack ad against cancer. In a time when mudslinging and vitriol are running wild, do we really need to get all “in your face” about cancer and its treatment? Is hating cancer and what it has taken from us really going to move us forward in understanding the mechanisms involved in cancer cell growth? Will warning cancer that “we’re after it” lead us to less devastating forms of treatment? Personally, I prefer that those involved in the process come at with a more compassionate, questioning and determined attitude than that of “Cancer, you suck!”

Whether we will defeat cancer in this, or any, lifetime is certainly a question worth asking. And if anyone should have a say in the matter, survivors and family members who’ve lost loved ones to the disease should top the list. When those voices are put together in a collage and then entered into the public discourse, I think we owe it to everyone to keep that dialogue sane, civil and useful.

Since I was not consulted prior to the commercial being released, I would like to, with tongue firmly in cheek, offer two pitches for the next advertisement:

Pitch #1:

Scene opens to reveal a chemotherapy room. Chairs are arranged in a circle, with IV poles and monitors next to each. Chairs are empty, and dim sunlight filters the room with a warm glow. In complete silence, a nurse walks across the room, pauses for a moment at each chair, and then walks over to the only monitor still on. The camera zooms in on the face of the monitor and the nurse flips the “off” switch. She walks out of the room, closes the door, and is seen hanging a sign just below the words Treatment Room. We hear her footsteps fade out as the camera zooms in on the sign that reads, “Going Out of Business.”

Voice over: (I’m thinking James Earl Jones-like) “Working toward the day.”

Pitch #2:

Viewers see me (I always wanted to be on TV) sitting on the couch, with my Great Dane, Daphne, curled up next to me. Looking straight into the camera with a serious look on my face, despite the dog gnawing on a red snake chew toy, I say, “Hey cancer, I wanted to have a word with you, and then I realized you’re not a person, and talking to you might not make any sense. Not only do you not have ears, mouth, eyes or nose, you also have no soul.”

I turn to the to Great Dane and start talking to dog. “Isn’t that right, girl? Cancer ain’t got no soul.” I grab the chew toy, look it straight in the eyes and say, “Ain’t that right snake?”

I squeak the toy and hand it back to the dog.

Scroll comes up reading, "Brought to you by the Council for Compassionate Cancer Care (4C) We Foursee (I really should get paid to do this) a life free of cancer."

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